Big Money For Schools Might Go Before Irvine Voters

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Irvine voters could get the chance in November to approve initiatives that would funnel millions to public schools and place incentives for businesses to go green, but Councilman Steven Choi said he fears such initiatives would be Councilman Larry Agran’s front for a slate mailer campaign.

A memo from Agran, who brought the ideas before the council, envisions a two-year funding commitment that includes annual contributions of $500,000 to the Irvine Educational Partnership Fund and annual $1 million challenge grants to the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. Though because of a three-year recommendation Councilwoman Christina Shea made, the funding would likely go into fiscal year 2013-14

Council members last night decided to form an ad-hoc committee — composed of representatives from the city, the Irvine and Tustin school districts and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation — that would discuss the details of different spending proposals, including restoration of lost teaching days and smaller class sizes.

After the ad-hoc committee meets, the city attorney would come back to the council on July 13 with ballot initiative language for different proposals on how the money would be spent. The council would then make a final vote on the proposals.

But Councilman Steven Choi is suspicious of Agran’s motives, saying he would only support it if Agran didn’t use the initiative as a vehicle to get himself re-elected in November. He also brought up the 2008 “Irvine Community News and Views” slate mailer and indicated that Agran might be setting the stage for another round of that kind of slate mail.

“To me this is nothing but an attempt to use that measure as a vehicle to fund his campaign,” Choi said.

The news and views ad looked and read like an eight-page newspaper and included an article on Measure R — which was a Great Park ballot initiative for much of the park’s planning — and promoted Agran, Mayor Sukhee Kang and Councilwoman Beth Krom

Because political committees and slate mailers have no campaign contribution limits under state law, Measure R provided a convenient funding bucket for news and views. Choi says he is afraid that Agran would do the same with the education and green-friendly initiatives.

Agran didn’t respond to Choi’s concern, saying that “we can have that debate [at the next meeting],” and Kang said it was an “inappropriate” discussion to have at the dais.

Instead, Agran focused on the possible benefits of the initiative’s passage. Agran said the school year had been cut from 180 days to 175 days a year. It costs $750,000 to restore one school day, and the challenge grant could end up providing funds to restore all of the school days if businesses stepped up and gave enough.

“Going from 180 school days to 175 is a serious erosion in excellence in my view,” Agran said.

Choi expressed the same concern about Agran’s proposed green initiative, which would see at least 5,000 new trees a year at the Great Park for the next three years, and incentives for private businesses to take on green building standards.

Both motions passed 4-1, with Choi voting no on each.



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